Culture

Race Across America goes virtual

Australian journalist plans to tackle America’s premier endurance race on trainer.

Does one have to go to America to race across America? Australia’s Rupert Guinness is going to find out.

Nearly a year’s worth of training and planning seemed to be dashed for Guinness last month when organizers announced that the Race Across America was going to be canceled in 2020 due to coronavirus.

An off-the-cuff comment from his RAAM support crew chief about doing a virtual version of one of cycling’s most demanding long-distance races got Guinness thinking. A night of rumination later, and his mind was made up.

“You could sense that RAAM was going to be canceled, so I was thinking, ‘what next?’” Guinness told VeloNews. “Later one night at home, over a glass of rosé, I gave it deep thought. Why not? It will put my RAAM prep to good use, set me up well for RAAM in 2021.”

So what was very much a grand tour-level project — with a team of a nearly dozen support staff, three vehicles, travel, and racing from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans across the heart of America — unexpectedly turned into a virtual one.

Instead of racing in June from California to Maryland in the legendary 3,000-mile route that crosses 12 states, Guinness will be doing it from Sydney, Australia, on his home trainer.

Guinness, a journalist and author, wasn’t ready to walk away from the RAAM challenge.

“I knew I could do the distance,” he said. “By being in one location, it becomes an even platform for me to promote the cause that was driving me for RAAM – that being, the awareness and support for mental health.”

Guinness, 58, is no stranger to long-distance racing. A former Ironman triathlete, he raced in the first two editions of the Indian-Pacific Wheel Race across Australia. The first year was cut short in 2017 due to a tragic accident involving racer Mike Hall. Guinness returned in 2018 to finish the 5,417km route, and later wrote a best-selling book documenting the experience.

Guinness, who worked as VeloNews European correspondent in the 1990s, soon started plotting an attempt at RAAM. He spent much of the past 18 months organizing the logistics, building a support staff, rallying financial backers for the nearly $100,000 budget, and training a lot.

Open road or indoor trainer, Guinness intends to complete RAAM one way or another. Photo: Anthony Gordon

When the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on RAAM, Guinness thought all the hard work and investment was lost.

Watching other elite athletes take to virtual platforms during the lockdown —including the likes of 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas who rode 36 hours over three days to raise nearly a half-million dollars for the UK healthcare system — gave Guinness and his team inspiration.

A key member of Guinness’s support crew is Anthony Gordon, a documentary filmmaker who is going to help produce a video project of the RAAM effort. Gordon had covered three previous editions of the race, and has close links to organizers. Gordon reached out to RAAM officials, who gave the virtual effort the official green light.

A few other RAAM riders are also working on a virtual attempt, and others still might even ride portions of the route later this summer if conditions permit even if it won’t count for an official result.

VRAAM will start in under three months. Photo: Rupert Guinness

By April, Guinness fully embraced the virtual attempt. His road crew that numbered eight has doubled for the new online event. He’ll have a nutritionist, two massage therapists, a team leader, and technical support for the virtual effort to help get him through the grueling, hours-long sessions.

Organizers are considering a virtual version of the race that will mimic the route as much as possible, with three categories racing. The full-length virtual Race Across America (VRAAM) is 3,000 miles. A virtual Race Across the West (VRAW) is 925 miles, and a daily event is planned, likely about one hour per day. More than 800 people have already signed up with expressions of interest to race.

The VRAAM will start June 16, with a time-cut of 12 days for all categories. Racing time is limited to 20 hours maximum per day, and Guinness and his support crew have already mapped out a riding schedule to make the cutoff.

Guinness will set up shop in a Mercedes car dealership in Sydney, and be joined by other cyclists and friends live and virtually. He will use the FulGaz platform to engage with cyclists all over the world.

Guinness is also using his RAAM effort to promote mental health issues, and he is sure to go into a few rabbit holes himself during the nearly two-week stint on the indoor trainer.

“Earlier this year I did eight hours on an indoor trainer in my local gym, and before that – in 2014 – five hours,” Guinness said. “By the time VRAAM starts, I will have surpassed the eight-hour mark as I have some hard sessions coming up in next weeks.”

By 2021, Guinness is hoping coronavirus will be in the rearview mirror, and he can do the real RAAM next summer, with nothing but open road ahead of him. See links below to read more about the project:

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